The Tension of Motherhood

When the great composer Mozart was young, he liked to play a cruel trick on his father, Leopold.  He would come home at night after his father was in bed, go to the piano and begin playing loudly.  Note by note he would play a scale, getting slower and louder as he got higher… and then he would stop, just one note short, and go to bed.

Old Leopold would go crazy, tossing and turning as that unfinished scale haunted his dreams. Eventually he would get up, stumble to the piano to plunk out that last note, then return to bed in peace.

There’s something extremely satisfying about resolving what’s unfinished, yet when we step back and look at life, much of it is in process.  The years of motherhood are the middle of the story, and if we’re honest, it can be hard to cherish the dissonance that fills the days and years.

There’s a constant temptation to focus on the unfinished notes of each day.  The laundry sits, waiting to be folded.  The weeds grow higher than the flowers.  The floor needed vacuuming… yesterday.  The missed appointment. Underneath the surface lies even deeper dissonance as we wrestle with grief as it washes over us like waves in the ocean. We question if we’re raising our children with the right values.  We click through the headlines, overwhelmed by the violence and disunity.  We respond in frustration toward those closest to us when we should reach out for a hug.

As Moms, we live in the space between the notes.  Unlike Mozart’s father, we don’t have the luxury of hitting that one last note that resolves it all. So how do we learn to treasure these years raising children, when so much around us seems unsettled? How can we cherish what we have instead of focusing on we don’t?

My fourth baby was born just thirteen months after we buried her big sister.  For all the joy and healing she brought to our lives, we were still living in such deep grief.  I remember so well early morning feedings, cradling my newborn close while the tears ran down my cheeks as I longed for the child I had buried.  I had so many unanswered questions.  I was torn between the joy of new life and the sorrow of raising a family who would be forever incomplete.

One morning, in the stillness of the pre-dawn, the song of the very first bird caught my attention.  One little trill broke through the darkness, inviting the other birds to join in.  Intrigued, I began to listen each morning and sure enough, each day the quiet would be broken by one brave bird who would lead the others.  I grabbed on to the song of those birds as they reminded me to rejoice in the beginning of each new day.

I dug out an old notebook a few days after I first heard the birds.  I numbered the lines and scribbled out a few words.  What could I cherish in such dark days?  I noticed the dimples on my son’s elbows, so I wrote it down.  Our neighbor delivered a fresh pear pie and the smell filled the house.  I wrote that down, too.  Line by line, I filled in that notebook and I realized there was still so much to be cherished.  The hope hadn’t disappeared; it just took a little extra digging to find it.

The secret to cherishing motherhood is to find joy in the tension of life.  We don’t sweep the difficulties under the rug.  We can’t wait for the to-do list to be complete or for the unanswered questions to be resolved…. we search for hope in the unfinished scale.  We nestle into the middle of the story, determined to treasure the little and big things that come our way. We live our unresolved lives boldly, appreciating the beauty of Motherhood in all its’ glorious dissonance.


This article originally appeared at



Sarah Damaska
Sarah lives in the Thumb of Michigan with her husband + 3 kids, stirring the soup, folding the laundry and sitting at the baseball games.  She drinks her coffee with a bit of cream and if you check her bag, you’ll find a book (or three), just in case. She writes on hope & sorrow at .

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